When James Anderson removed Indian skipper Rohit Sharma and first innings double-centurion Yashaswi Jaiswal inside the first four overs on Day 3, there was a sense of unease among the Vizag crowd who were just about settling themselves in under rather unusual overcast and hazy conditions. Will India be able to add anything substantial to the already swelled-up lead of 171. By the end of it, India managed to add 227 runs, setting England a mighty big target of 399 – a record chase in prospect for the England ‘Bazballers’ on a track that has not so far deteriorated as much as it was expected.
But, on expected lines, England openers started off in a positive manner knocking the 50 runs off the target in just 11 overs, with Mukesh Kumar leaking 19 runs in his two overs, even as Jasprit Bumrah kept things tight at one end. India had to bring in spin as early as the fifth over in the form of Kuldeep Yadav, but they had to wait till the 11th to get the first breakthrough. Ravichandran Ashwin got enough bounce off the surface in his first over itself for to trouble Ben Duckett, who bat -padded one up in the air and keeper Srikar Bharat completed a diving catch four overs before the close of play. At stumps, England had reached 67/1, needing 332 runs more to win with Zak Crawley (29*) and Rehan Ahmed (9*) in the middle.
Earlier, off that 227 India made today, 104 came off Shubman Gill’s bat – much-needed runs for the underfire prodigy, who was yet to score a fifty batting at his new position of No.3. But it was not easy going for him at the start. He had some nervy moments to begin with, first overturning an on-field LBW decision and surviving one on umpire’s call before getting a few freebies to get going. The way Anderson was bowling in the morning (reducing India to 30/2), India would very well have been four down with nothing on the board in the second innings, but Gill, combining with Shreyas Iyer, arrested the England momentum with a stand of 81 runs for the third wicket.
Once Anderson’s early burst was over, England captain Ben Stokes’ lost Joe Root to a finger injury in the first hour of play itself getting hit by a Shreyas Iyer edge that fell short at first slip, Root went off the field as a precaution and did not take the field for the remainder of the day.
And with the track still holding up well, England’s young spinners failed to put pressure on India consistently. That allowed Iyer and Gill to move along the scorecard at decent clip. By the first drinks break, India had extended the lead over 200 and Iyer and Gill, the two most under-pressure players in this Indian line-up looked to be getting back in form.
But seven overs before lunch, Iyer in a bid to take on miscued one that gripped off the surface and turned away a bit. Still, it took a screamer of a catch from the England skipper, who covered 22 meters from mid-off running backwards to latch on to a fantastic catch. The wicket came against the run of play as Iyer departed for 29 off 52, once again failing to convert his start. He has now gone 13 innings with a fifty-plus score to his name.
By lunch, India had gone on to lose one more wicket in the form of the debutant Rajat Patidar, who in a bid to cut leggie Rehan Ahmed, did not bend down enough to cover for the low bounce and Ben Foakes took another fantastic catch, similar to the one he took against Iyer in the first innings. At 130/4, India were in a spot of bother, but the lead had swelled to 273 by lunch. Gill had moved to 60 and looked set for the big haul.
In the post-lunch session, Stokes’ plan proved rather ineffective as Gill and Axar Patel continued to motor along. Gill and Patel went on to punish Ahmed whenever he bowled short. Gill danced down the track to Hartley, whenever the tall left-arm thought of flighting the delivery. Shoaib Bashir too darted the ball in and often bowled too full, with Gill happy to sweep him towards backward square leg with aplomb.
Patel and Gill put on 89 runs for the fifth wicket. Gill reached his third Test hundred with a nudge off Bashir towards the square, but a rather muted celebration followed. Reaching the milestone seemed more relief for him than elation. But he would soon lose his focus and fall to the Stokes’ fielding trap. Gill was very good on the on-side and strokes packed it with fielders and asked Gill to access the off-side. Gill did, rather tried – and with his first reverse sweep of the whole innings of Hartley, but he gloved it to keeper Foakes. Stokes’ gamble had paid off as England just about hung in there. Gill departed for 104 off 147, but he would have loved to play on and bat England out of this game. Patel would follow suit, trapped in front by Hartley for 45. By tea, India had reached 227/6, but the lead was 365 – already in the record target territory. India still in front? Yes of course.
The final session for India was quite bizarre, only 28 runs were scored in the 14.3 overs India’s last four batted before getting bowled for 255. R Ashwin trundled along for 61-ball 29, Bumrah played out 26 deliveries without scoring a run and Srikar Bharat, the local hero gifted his wicket away to a short delivery from Ahmed scoring 6 off 28. Ultimately, India did end up with 255 setting England a target of 398. By cricketing logic, this should be out of bounds for any team. No team has come close to chasing any total near this, barring India Chennai 2008 vs England. A Sachin Tendulkar century had led India chasing down 387. The next best is the Windies chasing down 276 in Delhi way back in 1987.
But, remember Edgbaston 2022, when these very Bazballers chased down 378 against India? Well, heading into the fourth day England need 332 to win with nine wickets in hand.
India 1st innings: 396 all out
England 1st innings: 253 all out
India 2nd innings: 255 all out in 78.3 overs (Shubman Gill 104, Axar Patel 45; Tom Hartley 4/77, Rehan Ahmed 3/88).
England 2nd innings: 67 for one in 14 overs (Zak Crawley 29 batting; R Ashwin 1/8).